Swedish artist Michael Johansson (Trollhättan, Sweden, 1975) is one of the artists featured in the ongoing Space Invader exhibition at the Netherlands Media Art Institute. For this event, Johansson is presenting a set of sculptures and installations inspired by the all time paradigm of puzzle games,Tetris. GameScenes asked the artist is the "Tetris effect" is the real culprit.
Michael Johansson, "Tetris", 2007, Objects from a storage room; door, matress, bags, boxes, etc. , Dimensions: 2 x 1,2 x 1,5 m., Installation view: Örnsköldsviks Konsthall
Michael Johansson,"Tetris - Liljevalchs Konsthall", 2009, Objects from the storage room; tv, tools, equipment, boxes, etc. , Dimensions: 4.7 x 1.7 x 0,6 m. Installation view: Vårsalongen 2009, Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm (S)
GameScenes: You are currently participating in the Space-Invader exhibition at Netherlands Media Art Institute with a piece titled "Tetris". Can you describe your installation? What is the relationship with the original game?
Michael Johansson: During the last years I have made a series of site specific installations where I use material found in the backroom of the exhibition space where the works is put on display. It can be described as a real life Tetris-game, where I carefully stack various objects into a suitable open space found within the institution, creating a fixed structure playing with the idea to set part of the usual activities of the exhibition space to zero. I also want to remind the viewer about the activities going on in the exhibition space at a daily basis but usually taken away before the opening
For me the resemblance with Tetris became clear first after finishing the first work within this series, when I tried to come up with a matching title. Lately I have chosen to emphasise the similarity with the game, and use notions of colour and shape to reinforce a playful touch to the works.
Michael Johansson, "Tetris", 2007
GameScenes: Are you familiar with the so-called "Tetris effect"? The idea is that if you play the game obsessively, little by little you start seeing the geometric shapes everywhere, you constantly think about ways of juxtaposing them... At one point you even begin to dream about Tetris! Have you experienced it in your daily life? Do you feel an urge to collect and arrange things? It certainly seems like you have a fetish for maximizing the available spaces, so to speak...
Michael Johansson: Since a lot of my time is spent on collecting various objects that I organize and store in my studio and storages, I have to try keep everything in order otherwise I pretty much loose control of it completely. And even though I don't recognize the Tetris-effect from playing to much Tetris, I have experienced similar syndromes. When for example looking for a specific type of object, or being occupied by a certain repeated task for a longer period of time. This concentrated focus on a certain single action over time can of course affect other activities as well.
For me creating works by stacking and organizing ordinary objects is very much about putting things we all recognize from a certain situation into a new context, and by this altering their meaning. And I think for me the most fascinating thing with the Tetris-effect is the fusion of two different worlds, that something you recognize from the world of the videogame merges into the real life as well, and makes you step out from your daily routine and look at things in a different way.
Michael Johansson, "Tetris Sculpture", 2010
GameScenes: What is your experience with videogames? Are you a gamer? If so, what are your favorite genres or titles?
Michael Johansson: When I was young I guess I was as interested in videogames as any other kid. But I never got to buy the Amiga of my dreams, instead I had to settle with my family's PC, which of course limited the gaming experience quite a lot and eventually reduced my interest. Lately I haven't payed so much attention to computer games. But since I guess you can say I am playing my own version of Tetris at the moment, with the difference that I have to keep track on my high score in an alternative way, maybe I have found my way into gaming after all.
I don't know if any other videogame has inspired me in my other works, but on the other hand it is sometimes hard to track down your inspiration until afterwards, or when someone else points it out to you. And since the new technologies keep pushing the limits for what is possible to visualize I think there's a great chance that videogames will get back into my life in some unexpected way in the future.
All images courtesy of the artist
Text by Mathias Jansson
link: Michael Johansson
link: Space Invaders exhibition